Minera Alumbrera: A decade of contamination control, a decade of savings
Minera Alumbrera, the first Caterpillar customer mine site to achieve the Five-Star Contamination Control designation, reached another milestone in November 2014 when Caterpillar and Cat® dealer Finning S.A. representatives visited the site in Argentina to recognize the mine for 10 consecutive years of maintaining the designation.
That’s 10 years of commitment to clean facilities, clean components, clean processes and clean fluids. And 10 years of reaping the benefits. From an initial investment of US$700,000, the mine has saved millions of dollars by extending major component life, reducing the cost of maintenance, reducing unscheduled work and improving equipment availability.
Alumbrera estimates that over the last decade, the site has saved about US$3 million per year in operating costs related to major and minor components thanks to the contamination control program. This represents about 3 percent of the site’s annual maintenance budget.
“We are very proud to have achieved five-star status for 10 years,” says Miguel Seu, maintenance manager, who gives credit to the site’s maintenance and operations personnel for making the commitment. “We achieved this certification through the training of our people, and we reinforce it by continuing to learn and by promoting teamwork. It shows our strong commitment to good practices and the implementation of the highest standards.”
In addition to the overwhelming support of the maintenance team, bringing operators on board to help in the effort was a key contributor to success. “We explained the implications of implementing the program and trained the operators on what they could do to help, such as using clean fluids. We held weekly meetings to talk about the program and keep the whole team involved. We also made sure everyone knows that the management team is committed to supporting this strategic process.”
Developing a new site culture
In addition to the financial benefits of the program, Alumbrera has used the contamination control initiative as a springboard to a new site culture. Thanks to extensive training and new attention to detail throughout the mine, the site saw a 50 percent reduction in safety incidents in the truck shop, tire shop and other maintenance areas in the first two years of certification. Personal injuries, damage to the plant and equipment, near misses and environmental incidents have been reduced throughout the mine.
Total Recordable Injuries dropped in the first five years — from 13 in 2005 to eight in 2009 — but significant reductions continued and held in the next five years, dropping from six in 2010 to only two recordable injuries in 2011, 2012 and 2014, and just one in 2013.
“Changing the culture was a great challenge, but it was worth it,” recalls Seu. “The implementation of the program generated a strong work culture, eliminating improvisation and sub-standard work practices.”
The designation has also given Alumbrera international recognition as a leader in the industry. “We are shown as an operation with the highest standards and best practices,” says Seu.
Relying on partnerships
The Caterpillar contamination control program was developed initially as a program for Cat dealers. A number of dealerships have implemented the program and reached the five-star designation. Finning S.A., the Cat dealer in Argentina, is a pioneer of the program and follows the standards when performing maintenance at Alumbrera and many of its other locations. In fact, the dealership has made financial investments to improve customer maintenance areas in order to maintain its own high standards on site. Close to a third of the nearly 300 people in the mine’s maintenance organization are employed by Finning, which has two managers, four supervisors and 70 technicians on site to support the mine’s maintenance activities.
“Cat dealers really are the experts in contamination control,” says Bishop. “In fact, it was watching their performance that led Alumbrera to begin its own journey to be the first customer location designated a five-star site.”
Alumbrera recognizes that its partnership with Finning was a key to success. “The partnership with Finning is very important,” says Seu. “We have been working together conducting internal audits since 2003, when we had a three-star rating. In 2004, we conducted another internal audit with the dealer and were rated four stars. Finally, in 2005 we brought in Caterpillar for an official audit and earned the five-star rating. The teamwork we have with the dealer made it possible for us to apply all 14 sections that Caterpillar outlines in its contamination control guide. The dealer helped us understand and implement the program.”
Caterpillar, too, had a role in getting the program started and helping Alumbrera continue it successfully for the past decade. “Caterpillar has strongly supported this initiative since the start in 2003,” says Seu. “The company shows its commitment by providing us the standards, evaluating our performance and helping us continually improve. They visit our site every year and provide valuable feedback.”
Getting high performance from aging equipment
Alumbrera is one of the world’s largest and lowest-cost copper and gold operations. In operation since 1997, the mine sits at 2600 meters (8,500 feet) altitude in the eastern foothills of the Andes. The mine uses standard trucks and shovels on 17-meter (56-foot) benches, with 2-meter (6.5-foot) sub-drill, and ore is hauled to processing facilities nearby.
The production fleet includes four Bucyrus electric rope shovels; three large wheel loaders, including a Cat 994D; 55 Cat 793B and 793C 218-tonne (240-ton) trucks; and four drills. A D11R and five D10R dozers handle production dozing work. Cat wheel dozers are used to clean up loading areas, and motor graders maintain the haul roads. Finning maintains 30 of the site’s 793 trucks while Alumbrera takes care of the rest.
In spite of the age of its fleet and the mine’s elevated grade, the equipment continues to perform well. The contamination control program has certainly had an impact. “Following this program allows us to fulfill our planned availability — even with equipment that has more than 120,000 hours,” says Seu.
After the implementation of the program in 2003, engine and transmission life increased 29 percent, differential life increased 27 percent, and wheel group life increased 13 percent. The program has helped the mine strengthen its maintenance planning and scheduling as well as further take advantage of condition monitoring.
In addition to improving the overall cleanliness of the site and maintenance shops, the addition of fuel filtration has had a significant impact on component life, says Seu. Premature injector failure and associated fuel system downtime were dramatically reduced by installing both tank inlet and dispensed filtration, as well as an Alfa Laval fuel polishing system. Fuel is dispensed at or below the Cat recommended cleanliness target of ISO 18/16/13. In addition, the installation of underside water spray jets in the wash bays helps the maintenance team get a better view of the equipment during visual inspections.
The quality of maintenance and the availability of machines has improved. “In some cases we maintain equipment availability according to budget despite its age,” says Seu. “In other cases we have improved availability, with an increase of 15 percent in major component life. Truck availability has continued to remain high throughout the last 10 years.”
Continuing the journey
As Caterpillar’s first five-star customer site, Alumbrera has set the bar for contamination control. And the mine has no intention of losing the coveted designation.
“Our employees are committed to contamination control,” says Seu. “We have made them participants and owners of the program so they stay involved and have a strong sense of belonging on this important team.”
The site will continue with monthly internal audits to ensure the standards are continually followed in all equipment maintenance practices and procedures. Training will continue to reinforce the lessons learned and to motivate the team.
“We have a culture of continuous improvement,” says Seu. “That includes our commitment to remaining the industry leader in contamination control.”